Blind Awareness Revisited

In my post Blind Awareness I reviewed a book called “Seeing Beyond Sight: Photographs by Blind Teenagers“ by Tony Deifell. Recently Tony was asked to be a part of  Authors@Google and the talk that he presented was filmed and placed on YouTube. In his talk he tells some of the stories from Seeing Beyond Sight and uses the themes to explore the idea of “innovation” more directly. The blurb on the wed site states:

Tony Deifell taught photography to blind children. More importantly, they taught him what it means to see. He draws surprising lessons about innovation and leadership from the experience. Whether it is business strategy, customer behavior, team building or personal development, he shows us how we are each bound by the ways in which we see the world.

 But for me what is much more telling are his insights into the concept of Seeing. Without wanting to give too much away Tony explores the different stages of Seeing, beginning with “Distortion” and ending with “Illuminance”. In an email, Tony told me that he “…forgot to say during that talk that once you think you’ve reached “illuminance” you can go right back into distortion — esp b/c of ego and stuff. It’s circular, not linear. But, then again, that’s the fun of the journey.”

If you have an interest in photography this is well worth watching and if your interest is more towards understanding life and some of the questions it raises then you will be equally well served.

If you feel so inclined please rate Tony’s video, digg it, stumble it, tweeter it, share it so that his pointers may spread a little further.

The art of being

Back in 1989 I was introduced to a photographer by the name of Freeman Patterson. Not in person but through one of his books. The book was called “Photography and the Art of Seeing” (there’s a new edition of this book available through Amazon). Until then most books I had read on photography delt with the technical aspect of photography. Books that went on about apartures, shutter speeds, focal lengths, ISO, lenses, films and they always had a lot to say about rules. Rules on focus, on composition, on exposure, on focal points, on vanishing points on highlights and low-lights and on and on. Not knowing any better I followed the rules and learned the lingo and produced images that were well exposed with the subject matter in focus and composed according to the “rule of thirds” with just the right DOF having correctly worked out the hyperfocal distance for the lens I was using. And so photography which was and still is, just a hobby for me, felt like a lot of hard work. And the results were hit and miss. The hits were the “pretty” ones but in reality they were all misses because all failed to evoke much of a response beyond the “that’s nice” reaction. Now it’s quite possible that I was simply reading the wrong books or that I simply sucked but it got to the point where photography lost its attraction. I was coming to the conclusion that photography was for professionals and that I should satisfy myself in enjoying their work rather create my own.

Then along came Freeman Patterson with his short book filled with simple words and simple images. There was no mention of cameras or lenses. No formulas or complex theories. No rules. Instead this book had words about seeing and sensing. Words that explored emotions rather than technicalities. Words that encouraged me to break the rules… on purpose. Words like “thinking sideways”, “relaxed attentiveness”, “imagination”, “expression”. Freeman Patterson took me on a journey that explored the ordinary and the mundane. He made me look and taught me to see.

Autumn Glimpsed

When I was a small child I was forever running through tall grasses and low shrubs, so I became very familiar with glimpses of things. I’ve found that, as an adult, I appreciate not being told the whole story or shown the entire scene, but being allowed room for my imagination to wander. It’s nice to have that part of being a child stay with me.
There are many days now when I use my camera to go poking through underbrush or plants in my garden, letting the leaves and flowers and spiders’ webs and dewdrops appear and disappear almost by magic. In fact, the most exotic places in the entire world seem to be right around my house. From the book “Photography and the Art of Seeing”.

Freeman Patterson

The book went on about visual design and even here the words were about shapes and textures, perspective and light, patterns and rhythm. When the topic turned to colour it was in terms of relationships between colours and emotion, colours and time, even colour in relation to itself. I read about dynamic simpliciy and symbolism, balance and deformation.

And then there was the images. Not the usual pictures of sunsets and flowers and cute animals that I’d seen in other photography books but images that spoke quietly of awareness and sensuality and emotion.

But the lessons were so subtle, at least to me, that it was a decade before I understood them and then almost another decade before I could let it all go. The technical know-how, the rules, the beliefs, all the things that prevented seeing from happening. Including Freeman Patterson’s concepts. I had to put everything aside to be in the moment. “In the moment”… that’s such a corny and meaningless phrase. But that’s how I saw it, that’s how I got to understand presence.

Photography for me is not about following rules or even breaking them. It’s not really about cameras and sensors, it’s not merely about colours and tones, focus and sharpness. It’s about seeing. It’s about being.

We’re All Gonna Die – The out clause

I recently came across an especially creative and artful piece of photography entitled “We’re All Gonna Die – 100 metres of existence” by photographer Simon Høgsberg. I found myself looking at it for what seemed like ages, captivated by the 178 people scrolling across my screen, all shot from the same location in Berlin over the span of twenty days.

I find the idea of this project to be nothing short of brilliant and the execution of it pure genius.

I don’t know what inspired Simon Høgsberg to do this or even why he named it what he did. I like the title, I like the cinematic aspect, I like that it was shot over 20 days but appears in one space, I like the gamut of expressions and emotions across the people’s faces, I like the flow of the presentation, I like the way it makes my imagination soar. It’s like people-watching from the comfort of my own home.

But as I said, I don’t know why Simon Høgsberg created this work. I don’t know what he sees in it. I don’t know what he felt when he shot each of the 178 images or where his imagination took him when he put them all together. Sorry. Instead I’ll tell you what thoughts emerged the first time I saw this work.

Just as all 178 images are joined so are we all connected. We all have much more in common than we believe. We’re all here in the same space, in the same time. We love, we laugh, we cry, we hate, we rejoice, we suffer, we hunger, we search, we cherish, we abuse, we lose, we find, we pray, we curse, we hope, we despair, we hug, we hit, we live, we die.

We live… we die.

So what’s the point to life? I’m guessing living is the point to life and death is the out-clause, the get-out-of-jail-free card. If you don’t work out who you are before you die then death will give you the answer. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m just letting you know the thoughts that appeared when I viewed “We’re All Gonna Die”.

When Kerry Packer suffered a heart attack after a polo game and was dead for 7 minutes until revived, he was asked if he saw a light at the end of a tunnel and he replied:

“Son, there’s fucking nothing there”.

And “nothing”, makes perfect sense to me.

Blind Awareness

For some time now I’ve had a theory that photography is not about the sense of sight but rather the sense of awareness. Good photography is not about rules and technical know-how, good photography is about revealing hidden truths and realities, relationships between subject and photographer and viewer. Twenty-twenty vision may help you make beautiful images but without a sense of awareness the images will be just that, pretty. They will be shallow, devoid of truths and feelings and worst of all, without a story.

The image on the left is of a book called “Seeing Beyond Sight: Photographs by Blind Teenagers“. When you read this book or visit the web site you can’t help but question the need for sight to make photographs. The author Tony Deifell explains that while the young photographers may not be able to see light they can feel the heat due to the light. They are aware of it’s presence.

“I was thinking that it would be sort of hard for a blind person to take pictures, but it’s not very hard. You’ve just got to listen.” (John V., student, page 48 of Seeing Beyond Sight).

The photographs taken by these young people tell a story about their relationships between themselves and the world and their connection to it. They help us connect the inside to the outside and that is a powerful message. I’ve questioned in a previous post, the difficulty of determining where we end and where the outside world begins. After looking at these photographs you get the feeling that there is no separation.

For me, these young photographers have proven my theory and taken it beyond the original premise. Photography is not about the sense of sight, it’s beyond sight, it’s about what we are, it’s about being, it’s about awareness… It’s about being awareness itself.

Just two images from Seeing Beyond Sight.